Maharaja’s Son Killed by Police in Alleged Campaign Shootout
NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Politics is normally rough-and-tumble in the world’s biggest democracy. It sometimes can be deadly.
Consider this Wild West-style campaign tale from the desert of Rajasthan:
A famous independent candidate - a late maharaja’s son - and his underlings batter their military jeeps into the helicopter of the state’s chief minister of the governing Congress Party.
Reason: Rival Congress Party workers had torn down all the campaign posters and banners for 64-year-old politician-candidate ″Raja″ Man Singh, the local strongman seeking his eighth consecutive term in the state assembly.
Result: Man Singh, considered a modern Robin Hood, and two supporters were killed Thursday in an alleged shootout with police who tried to arrest them for the copter assault. A close relative was quoted by the United News of India as saying the prince had been shot six times in the back.
The royal blood spilled on the Indian campaign trail has caused an uproar. Early today, Chief Minister Shiv Charan Mathur, in a decision prompted by the furor over the shooting, announced his resignation as head of the Rajasthan state government.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has expressed condolences and thousands of citizens mourned the death in Bharatpur, 84 miles southeast of New Delhi.
The state has ordered a judicial inquiry into the death. The official police version has been challenged as a ″fake encounter″ by the family and opposition leaders.
Mourners shouted ″Raja Man Singh is immortal″ at the cremation Friday and police sent reinforcements to prevent violence.
The death of the maharaja’s son was the worst violence in the current campaign for 11 state assembly elections to be held in early March. During the campaign and national elections last December, at least 45 people died.
While Indian campaigns seldom end in death, clashes between rival groups are common and fair play is not always the order of the day. Despite Gandhi’s efforts to clean up politics, unsavory characters - some with criminal records -are running for election in parts of the country.
Bizarre tales of Indian elections are not unusual, but the saga of the raja, the copter and the cops is remarkable even by Indian standards.
Man Singh was one of the two ranking lawmakers in the state and had served in the assembly since the first election in 1952.
He was never known to have attended sessions regularly, never campaigned on issues and counted on the royal name to win election after election.
For more than 30 years, his only campaign slogan was ″Long Live Giriraj Maharaj″ - the royal family’s local diety of valor. It was chanted to traditional folk music of drums and trumpets. He never raised an issue and never lost an election. Man Singh had been educated in England, joined the air force and enjoyed a reputation for great courage.
In 1947, when local people resisted Indian nationhood in their princely state, Man Singh supported the jailed royalists and forced the police at gunpoint to release them.
The raja was so popular and powerful that voters in his district resisted the Congress Party landslide that engulfed India in the last elections.
According to authorities and news reports, this is the tale of Man Singh’s end:
On Wednesday, Man Singh and his supporters learned that Congress Party workers had ripped down his campaign posters in Deeg town and the prince reportedly went on a rampage.
He and his men tore down Congress banners and he rammed his heavy military- type jeep several times against the rostrum where Mathur was to address an election meeting.
He and his jeep party also drove through a security cordon and repeatedly battered the helicopter rented by Mathur. The helicopter was seriously damaged but the pilot escaped unhurt.
Police charged Man Singh with attempted murder, rioting and criminal trespass, issued a warrant for his arrest and went searching for him.
On Thursday, they found him in a town bazaar and Special Inspector D.K. Dugga said Man Singh and his supporters started firing on the police and refused to surrender. He said police returned the fire in self-defense. Man Singh, reportedly firing a revolver, was killed on the spot, police said.